Category Archives: News Stories

Coming-of-age film ‘Superior’ showcases beauty of Northern Michigan


Photo/Edd Benda

Birmingham-native filmmaker Edd Benda returned to his home state last year to put together the Upper Peninsula adventure film “Superior.”

The idea for the film came to Benda, 25, at a family Thanksgiving dinner table a few years ago. His uncle, Karl Benda, shared the story of a bicycle trip he took Up North more than 40 years ago with friend Dan “Dudza” Junttila, before they were deployed to Vietnam.

The tale inspired Benda to share the beauty of Lake Superior and uncertainty of young adulthood through “Superior,” his first feature-film as a writer and director.

“‘Superior’ is a snapshot of America in 1969, when futures were uncertain, and yet the most outlandish adventures remained possible,” Benda says.

“I was so fascinated by the time, place and adventure itself (of his uncle’s story) that I started writing this movie. Superior is not just based on their story — it’s more of a patchwork quilt mash-up of stories I’d listened to over the years. My dad is from family of nine kids who went on lots of adventures, and he was always sharing stories with me also.”

After graduating from The International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Benda moved to Los Angeles. Studying filmmaking at the University of Southern California, he stayed on the West Coast after college, making short films through his independent film company “Beyond the Porch Productions.”

Benda shared his idea to base a film on his uncle’s story, and his team was interested in the project. Benda’s dream to create “Superior” became reality in summer 2014. He thoroughly researched the time period, considering his uncle’s story as well as life in the 1960s and early ’70s — especially for young men facing the draft — and the story line came together.

For 21 days, they filmed in the Keeweenaw Peninsula, the northernmost point in the Upper Peninsula.

The film crew, who were mainly from Los Angeles and had never been to the Midwest, also got into character, camping and living the Northern Michigan lifestyle the movie centers on.

“We not only spent time making this movie about an adventure, but were living it on our own,” Benda says. “It was a big part of the creative process.”

“Superior” stars Paul Stanko and Thatcher Robinson, as well a cast of what Benda described as “true-blue Yoopers,” noting he wanted to truly bring out the Michigan character.

“The movie takes place in Northern Michigan, and showcases one of the most beautiful parts of the state that I get to call home,” Benda says. “You couldn’t make this movie anywhere else — it had to be made in Great Lakes state.”

In addition to filming on location true to his uncle’s story, Benda wanted to make everything true to the times. Finding old vehicles and props was sometimes a challenge, but the bicycles ridden in the movie were those used by his uncle and friend back in the day.

While the film is only roughly based on his story, Uncle Karl has enjoyed being a local celebrity, Benda says. And “Superior” has been praised by people in the UP as well as nationally.

Following screenings in nine Michigan cities and locations around the country, the final showing of “Superior” is on Monday, Nov. 9, at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. Benda says he’s excited to bring his work back home.

“To round it off in my hometown is what I’m most excited about,” Benda says. “This film is very much a labor of love of mine, and it showcases the state I love so much and the kind of world that created me. I went to school in Birmingham, and had a lot of friends and support in local community — it’s part of who I am.”

For more information about Superior and Edd Benda’s other work, visit Tickets to the screening at the Bloomfield Maple Theater can be purchased at


Oakland University’s ISE department hosts Siemens PLC workshop

By Stephanie Sokol, Communications Assistant and Amanda Beaton, Siemens Cooperates with Education for OUSECS

Photo/ Robert Van Til

Photo/ Robert Van Til

A Siemens PLC workshop for high school, community college and university instructors was hosted at OU by the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Department. 

Part of the “Summer with Siemens” series, the workshop drew 11 teachers and professors from Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, to learn the basics of creating assignments and projects using Siemens Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC). 

The company holds at least 12 educator workshops around the country every summer lasting 3-5 days each. In addition to exploring Siemens hardware and software, the summer workshops primarily used specially built trainer workstations from Amatrol, Inc. The company creates innovative learning solutions with custom curriculum and online teaching resources available to education on topics from advanced manufacturing to geothermal systems.  The Siemens Cooperates with Education partners with didactic companies like Amatrol to offer global leading automation technologies to schools.  Through deep product discounts, tuition-waived training to instructors and free curriculum and teaching materials, Siemens partner schools offer students practical industry skills knowledge with comprehensive support. When industry, schools and suppliers work together it can be a powerful force.

“We want to encourage students to get to know Siemens and what the products are and just encourage technical skills at the high school, university and vocational level,” said Amanda Beaton, Siemens program promoter. “We see a lot of people graduating that haven’t gotten the chance to practice applied skills with PLCs programming, some of the core tech heavily used in manufacturing. We try to make it readily accessible to students and teachers — and make it cost effective and approachable so they can come to workshops, get hands-on practice and have access to our educator resources.”

The workshops help educators learn how to program and some tips on teaching PLCs, providing them with a starter kit of hardware and software for practice, curriculum development and teaching. 

University engineering programs often do not teach students about them. However, this winter, OU will be offering a new course on PLCs, because they are a crucial part of advanced manufacturing systems.

According to Robert Van Til, chair and Pawley Professor of Lean Studies in the ISE department, having access to state of the art PLCs is beneficial to OU’s engineering students. Siemens’ devices are becoming standard across the industry.

“We teach our students what a PLC is and how to use it to control manufacturing systems— it often comes up in job interviews where students are asked if they are familiar with PLCs,” said Van Til. 

“Most engineering students are not expected to be PLC experts , but most companies want them to know what a PLC is and how it works. For some reason I don’t fully understand,  PLC courses are not common in many engineering programs. Companies often have to send their newly-hired engineers to special PLC training courses.” 

 The ISE department’s relationship with Siemens in PLCs started about six months ago, but the department has had a long, on-going relationship with Siemens in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Van Til, worked with Robert Neff, OU alum and Siemens Account Manager, to get the PLC equipment.  

“We are excited that OU has decided to include PLC programming in their engineering curriculum,” Neff said. “Our customers frequently ask us which schools are graduating students that have learned Siemens PLC software. This new course offering helps build the local Siemens community, and supports filling the demand for PLC programmers.”  

With both the large amount of engineering opportunities in Oakland County, and OU’s  reputation in engineering, Beaton said the school was a good place to host the workshop.

“The workshop went well,” said Beaton. “Bob Van Til was really involved in helping set up and helping us with logistics, and Matt Bruer was helpful with getting our equipment in there and making sure everything was accounted for. The school was very helpful and accommodating.  Sometimes schools aren’t; sometimes it’s confusing for schools, but at Oakland it was nice.”

For more information on the ISE department as well as its programs in ISE and in Engineering Management, visit

Mechanical engineering student awarded academic scholarship

By Stephanie Sokol for SECS

Photo courtesy of Stephen Powell

Photo courtesy of Stephen Powell

Stephen Powell was recently awarded a $2,000 academic scholarship from engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, for the 2014-15 school year. Powell studies mechanical engineering at Oakland University.

Contestants submitted essays, letters of recommendation, volunteer experience and class standing both in the engineering school and department, in order to be considered for the award.

“I was very excited to find out that I had been awarded the scholarship because Oakland had recently raised its tuition for upperclassmen, and I knew that I could use the extra financial aid,” Powell said. “Since I plan on attending graduate school, any kind of financial assistance in my undergraduate years is appreciated.”

Mechanical Engineering was something Powell became interested in back in high school, after discovering his passion for math and physics through advanced placement courses.

He is currently a senior, studying within the Honors College, and has industry experience from his work at General Motors and United States Steel.

“My favorite part of the mechanical engineering program is my interaction with the professors,” Powell said. “The small class sizes allow the professors to get to know you on a personal level. This makes attending office hours much more enjoyable and allows me to learn better.” 

Powell got his start with TBP in October 2013. 

Through the society, he has had the opportunity to help others, and meet more engineering students and professionals. 

“I have very much enjoyed working with TBP for many reasons,” Powell said. “One reason is because they are very involved in volunteer work and giving back to the community. Many people may recognize us as the ones who host the bake sales at the entrance to Dodge Hall a few times every semester. We usually donate all funds we raise at the bake sales to Gleaners Food Bank. 

“Overall, I enjoy doing volunteer work with my classmates and friends within the organization.” 

First week of STEM camps a success


The first week of STEM camps at OU was a success. The program continues throughout the summer. Photo/Stephanie Sokol

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

Last week, students from 3rd to 12th grade gathered in Dodge Hall and the OU INCubator, to build and experiment in engineering. The annual summer-long STEM camps give kids the chance to explore the field.

“The kids have a lot of ideas and keep experimenting, so it’s nice,” said Ruth John, Industrial Engineering Teaching Assistant.

Pontiac Schools have teamed up with SECS, which will grant class credit to some high-school age learners. Courses are split into categories of Alternative Energy, Structures, Industrial and Systems, Electrical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science.

The first week spotlighted alternative energy. Under the instruction of Caymen Novak and Trey Whitehouse, children made their own batteries out of various household items, as well as miniature solar panels and wind turbines, testing the energy of each creation.

Older students spent time studying ergonomics, probability and statistics, using software to record and compare one another’s height, in a course led by Graduate Instructor John Katona.

STEM camps give students the chance to learn in a fun environment.

Throughout the summer, they will explore other areas of engineering, taking on projects to build robots, in addition to coordinating a light show to be played at Katona’s concert later this summer, which he said both himself and the students are excited for.

“I like working with kids because everything is new and exciting,” Katona said. “They haven’t experienced what engineering is like and it is exciting when they see their first program run or finish their first multifaceted engineering project. For many kids, it is their first time not being told how to do things, but they are allowed resources to build whatever they can envision.”

Registration is still available on Oakland’s website at

OU and University of Michigan team up for ISE class trip

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

Students in Industrial and Systems Engineering Department instructor William

Photo courtesy of ISE

Photo courtesy of ISE

Edwards’ Flexible and Lean ManufacturingSystems class had some hands-on experience during a trip to the University of Michigan’s Tauber Institute for Global Operations in Ann Arbor.

The opportunity allowed the students to apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-world situations. Students built Borg-Warner TurboChargers on an “assembly line,” and worked on a Hot Wheels assembly simulation to enforce the importance of standardizing production.

“There’s only so much you can do with academics in the classroom,” Edwards said. “Trips like this really reinforce students’ knowledge.”

While the class takes a trip each semester to a local company, this collaboration was the first of its kind, bringing together the two universities.

In the TurboChargers activity, students went through Yamazumi Charts which are “a breakdown of operations into elementary work units and standardized timing (Takt) at which the flow of the overall process should be conducted,” according to Edwards. 

Work loads could be leveled to create a more even flow of work pieces through the process by taking workable averages of each station element.

Next, Hot Wheel cars were used in a mock production line to discover how buffers and variations impacts the end product. 

At the end of the event, Dr. Matt Potoff, University of Michigan Operations Leadership Factory Director, spoke with the classes, covering concepts that were used in the interactive learning session.

“The students are coming in more educated with more real world experience than in the past,” Edwards said. “I think it was a great collaboration between the University of Michigan and Oakland University, sharing resources for the education of the next generation of engineers.”

If you are interested in learning more about Oakland University’s undergraduate and graduate programs in Industrial and Systems Engineering, please contact Professor Robert Van Til (, 248-370-2211) or visit the ISE Dept. website at:

Engineering and Computer Science students, faculty honored at annual Advisory Board Dinner

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

Students and faculty from the School of Engineering and Computer Science were honored for their accomplishments this month at the annual Advisory Board Dinner.

The dinner began in 2010 to thank advisory board members for their time, and expanded to recognize more members of the Engineering and Computer Science Community.

“(The dinner) was great and I like that we can honor the students, as well as faculty, with awards,” said Dr. Louay M. Chamra, Dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science. “I was very happy to meet the parents and (pay tribute to) students in terms of their contribution to the school, as well as academically-gifted students in the school of engineering and computer science.

On the faculty side, I like the fact that we give awards for their hard work in all aspects of teaching, research and service to the community, as well as Oakland University,” Dean Chamra continued.

A committee of department chairs and board members vote for faculty awards. This year’s honors went to Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of Outreach and Recruitment, Chris Kobus, Ph.D., for Teaching, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Laila Guessous, Ph.D., for Service, Associate Professor Osamah Rawashdeh, Ph.D., for Research, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering Zissimos Mourelatos, Ph.D., for John Dodge Chair and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Xia Wang, Ph.D., for Distinguished Associate Professor.

Graduating seniors from the program were also recognized for service and academics that evening. Faculty members decided who would be honored based on achievement and performance, Dean Chamra said.

“These students go to classes everyday and may have work outside the classroom, but yet, they find a time to volunteer and make a difference at the university as well as the community,” Dean Chamra said. “So, by honoring them — whether for service or academics — we tell everybody that if you volunteer, your hard work is not for nothing. We appreciate everything they do for us, and that’s what Oakland University is all about.”

Jameson Carle, an electrical and computer engineering student with a GPA of 3.73, was honored with the Service Award. This award is given to the graduating senior who has “rendered the greatest service to the school,” in judgment of the faculty.

Carle has been involved in many on-campus organizations, including his presidential role with Tau Beta Pi Honors Society, position as Treasurer of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, involvement with Sigma Pi Fraternity and OU Student Program Board, to name a few.

Outside of school, he gave back to his community, working with Gleaners, Toys for Tots and an American Textile Recycle Services, in addition to organizing math workshops in local schools and receiving the Eagle Scout Award in 2009 from Boy Scouts of America. His next step will be moving to Denver, Colo., to start his career as New Product Introduction Engineer with Agilent Technologies.

Information Technology Graduate Trpko Blazevski was honored with the award for Professional Development, which is given to the student who “has demonstrated the greatest technical development in his/her studies and shown an outstanding measure of individual initiative in connection with a project.”

Graduating with a 3.95 GPA, Blazevski was named Student Leader of the Year, and recipient of the Alfred G. Wilson Award. His academic success earned him Dean’s List recognition, an Academic Achievement Award and first-place honors in the Senior Capstone Design Competition.

Blazevski was also involved in on-campus student organizations, including Gold Key International Honor Society and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, and is the founder of the Oakland University Cyber Security Club “CyberOU.” Through the club, Blazevski coordinated a Google Glass Exploration Conference and the 2014 Cyber Summit Conference with keynote speakers from around the state.

The award for Exceptional Achievement went to Mechanical Engineering Graduate Caymen Novak. This honor is given to the student who faculty sees as achieving “the highest level of academic experience.”

Novak maintained a 3.95 GPA as an Honors College student, receiving the Matilda R. Wilson Award, Provost Undergraduate Research Award and recognition as Dean’s Scholar and Presidential Scholar.

The graduate is also a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Golden Key International, Tau Beta Pi Honor Society, Society of Women Engineers and Engineering Society of Oakland University. As a student, she worked as a teaching assistant, academic peer mentor and Imagineers Engineering program instructor, in addition to participation in Track & Field, Judo Club and Juggling Club.

The Academic Achievement honor is awarded to the student with the highest GPA. This year’s recipient was Matthew Solt, a Mechanical Engineering and Physics senior with a GPA of 3.99.

Solt interned and did research at Cornell, OU and MSU, become the first Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention from OU in 2012.

On campus, Solt worked as a Supplemental Instruction Leader for the Academic Skills Center/Tutoring Center, and served as a Peer Tutor, achieving the highest tutoring certification from his experience. He was also an officer of Tau Beta Pi Honors Society, an OU Top 3 sophomore for SECS in 2011, member of the American Physical Society and Secretary for the Society of Scholars, in addition to Presidential Scholar of Oakland University.

Solt will be will be attending Stanford University’s Ph. D. program in physics next fall, and receiving funding from the school to research at CERN this summer.

 “(I consider) every student who graduates from the School of Engineering and Computer Science (an) ambassador for both Oakland University and the school of engineering,” Dean Chamra said. “When they go out into the world and do well, they are representing all of us at Oakland— students, faculty and administration. That shows the quality of education and students at Oakland.”

Kristina Rinaldi wins first ever motion photography prize

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

In the digital age comes an evolution to media– especially photography. It’s easier than ever to share a visual story with the world in an instant– it’s grown to become an art of sorts. Announced this week, the first-ever Motion Photography Prize from Saatchi Art and Google+ was awarded to Kristina Rinaldi, for her entry in the “Urban” category of the competition.

A still from Christina Rinaldi’s winning entry for the Motion Photography Prize. (PRNewsFoto/Saatchi Art)

A still from Christina Rinaldi’s winning entry for the Motion Photography Prize. (PRNewsFoto/Saatchi Art)

The prize launched February 5, 2014, and more than 4,000 photographers entered in the six categories. The goal was to work towards drawing attention to motion photography as “a new art form for everyone.”Due to the constant evolution of social media, smart phones and popularity of photo-sharing services, Saatchi Art (The World’s Leading Online Art Gallery), The Saatchi Gallery in London and Google + teamed up to launch this award, gathering entries from photographers around the world– both professional and amateur– whoever most innovatively told stories threw photography and motion photography.

A jury of artists, including Tracey Emin, Shezad Dawood and Cindy Sherman, in addition to filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, played a role in selecting Rinaldi, as well as the 5 finalists Kostas Agiannitis (Lifestyle), Matthew Clarke (Night), Emma Critchley (People), Micael Reynaud (Action) and Stefanie Schneider (Landscape).

Each of the finalists, as well as the winner, earned the opportunity to showcase their works on Saatchi Art and a special exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London, which opened this week. Rinaldi’s award takes it a bit further– providing her the chance to travel with a photographer or filmmaker of her choosing.

The top 6 works can be viewed here: